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England – South Eastern

Regional Co-ordinator: The late Phil Lee

England - South Eastern

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Background to the Motorways in the Region

The Regional Organisation

The South East Region has over the years included the counties of Kent, East and West Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire. It has also included the Isle of Wight, but there are no trunk roads or motorways on the island. Oxfordshire was also in the region for the last few years of the region's existence, but before that it was included in Eastern region and perhaps at one time it fell within Midland region. For this reason some schemes were passed around and not necessarily handled by their parent regional office or RCU (see my paper in the Archive on M40 in Oxfordshire).

When the RCU was formed the participating counties, which formed the sub-units, were Kent, Surrey and Hampshire. In the general privatisation of the sub-units, the Surrey sub-unit was taken over by WS Atkins and the Hampshire one by Mott Hay & Anderson as they were then called. The Kent sub-unit was not transferred to a consultant and the County continued to work on motorway schemes as an Agent Authority.

The Geography and Economy of the Region

The region is almost entirely dominated by the presence of London. The Home Counties have over the years tended to become vast dormitories for London commuters, with extensive housing development. Around and between these developments lies the London Green Belt, jealously protected by organisations and individuals and none more so than the upwardly mobile newcomers who have moved into the new houses. Beyond the Green Belt lie the North and South Downs, both beautiful areas over which the public at large will fight tooth and nail to prevent any development likely to impair their natural beauty: or, more accurately, to prevent any development - full stop.

To the south and east of London lie the Channel ports and more recently the Channel Tunnel, with their significant infrastructure needs. Of the ports, Portsmouth and Southampton have become significant centres of population related both to port activity and to other industry. The Medway Towns - Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham - with their naval and dockyard traditions, and where dockyard closures have merely changed the nature of the industrial and commercial development, are also large centres of population. To the west, towards Slough and Reading, is "Silicon Valley", a centre for high-tech light industry.

The relative prosperity of the region, associated with the London working population and with these other magnets for the higher socio-economic groups, has over the years meant that national pressure groups opposing road construction have had the support of well-organised and very articulate local action groups. This for example made life very difficult for those engaged in trying to make progress on the planning and design of M25; and more recently it has manifested itself in a different way with active obstruction of attempts to build M3 around Winchester. It has been interesting in creating the archive to see how attitudes have changed over the years from the near euphoria that greeted M2 to the outright hostility towards roads in more recent times.

The Geology of the Region

The geology of the region is very varied and presents many challenges to the road designer and builder. The soil types encountered include areas of terrace gravels, fine sands of for example the Bagshot beds, London clay, the Upper and Middle Chalk of the Downs overlaid with clay and flints, Gault clay, the Woolwich beds and Thanet sands.

The Motorways within the Region

The region's motorways are of two kinds. First, there are the routes radiating from London, with different objectives. To the east and south they link London and the rest of the country with the Channel ports and the Channel Tunnel: to the west M4 links London with South Wales via the two Severn crossings: and M40 forms an alternative to M1 and M6 to Birmingham and the north-west. The remaining motorways are M27, intended to be part of a high speed route connecting the south coast towns, particularly Southampton, Portsmouth and Dover; and M25, the London orbital. Each of these will be dealt with in more detail later, but it is worth noting in the context of motorway strategy that the GLC had originally planned to build four ring roads at varying distances around London. However, following the Layfield Inquiry into the Greater London Development Plan, the radials were retained, but the proposed ring roads were abandoned. Until then M25 had been planned to continue eastward into Kent, but it was now decided to turn it to the north at Sevenoaks to connect with the Dartford Tunnel, thus taking the place of the GLC outer ring. It is particularly important to bear in mind this change in GLC's plans when we hear the heavy criticism levelled at the DTp that the M25 is not wide enough for the orbital traffic that it has to carry.